Research shows the benefits of early solids

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  Published on Wednesday, 19 September 2018

Research shows the benefits of early solids

Library Home  >  Health, Wellbeing & NutritionParenting & Family Life
  Published on Wednesday, 19 September 2018
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For their first months of life, breastmilk and/or formula provide babies with all the nutrients and energy they need, but as little ones grow and develop, a more substantial menu is required.

Things like mashed pumpkin and pureed apple open up a whole new eating experience, giving infants a taste for new foods, a feel for new textures and vital opportunities to practice chewing and swallowing.

However, as well as powering their bodies and boosting their brains, new research indicates that feeding your baby solids earlier can also help them sleep better.

What age should parents introduce solids to babies?

According to the Department of Health, around six-months-old is when babies need solid foods added to their liquid diet. This is when they’re likely to show an interest in food, have a bigger appetite and be able to sit upright with limited support and control their neck and head.

This advice is mirrored internationally, with the UK's NHS suggesting 'complementary feeding' around six months of age as well.

Saying that, solids can be introduced earlier, and although the Australian Department of Health strongly recommends that, 'Solids are not introduced before four months of age, as a baby's system is still immature,' new research has tested this viewpoint.

What is the connection between early introduction of solids and improved sleep?

According to a new study, sweet dreams are made of solids. Or, more particularly, researchers from the UK and US have found that the early introduction of solids has a 'small but significant effect' on how well a baby sleeps.

For this study, 1,303 healthy, breastfed three-month-olds were split randomly into two groups. One group was exclusively breastfed until six months, and the other group was given breastmilk and solids (including peanuts, eggs and wheat) from the age of three months. Researchers then followed the babies’ health and behaviour for three years, with families answering questionnaires about their children's sleep and solid food consumption.

Although the effect was modest, researchers found that the babies who were introduced to solids from three months slept, on average, two hours more a week at six months of age than the babies who were only breastfed. The first group also woke less often at night at six months and had less 'very serious sleep problems'.

How have baby experts responded to this research?

There has been a mixed reaction to the 'small but significant' correlation between early introduction of solids and improved sleep.

Professor Amy Brown of Swansea University has responded by saying that, 'There is no clear physiological reason why introducing solids foods early would help a baby sleep, especially not for the very small amounts parents were instructed to give in this trial'. She has urged caution and emphasised that the non-waking effect was only seen after the age of five months, despite one group receiving solids from three months.

However, others have been more supportive of the findings. Professor Mary Fewtrell, nutrition lead for the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health has welcomed the study, and says that in the UK and EU, 'We expect to see updated recommendations on infant feeding in the not too distant future' in terms of the recommendation that solids should not be introduced before four months.

Of course, every baby is different, and Erin Leichman, a senior research psychologist at St Joseph's University, Philadelphia says that the findings around solids and sleep are important and that more research is needed. However, she notes that, 'At this point, results of this study do not indicate that solids should be introduced early for all babies. Making the decision about when to introduce solid foods should be one that is family-based, and made with a trusted health-care provider.'

What solids should Australian parents start their babies on?

This study is definitely food for thought, and as things stand, here are the current Department of Health suggestions when it comes to introducing different foods at different ages:
 

The baby's age  Food consistency  Examples of food 

Birth to around six months 

 Liquid 
  • Breast milk and/or infant formula 
Six to seven months  Finely mashed or pureed foods (no added salt, sugar, fat, or other flavour)
  • Breast milk and/or infant formula
  • Infant cereal 
  • Smooth mashed pumpkin, potato or zucchini
  • Smooth cooked apple or pear 
  • Well-cooked pureeed liver or meat 
Eight to 12 months  Mashed or chopped foods and finger foods (no flavour added) 
  • Breast milk and/or infant formula 
  • Infant cereal
  • Well cooked and mashed/minced fish, minced liver or finely shredded meat, chicked or egg
  • A variety of mashed or soft-cooked veggies. e.g. broccoli 
  • Mashed cooked fruit 
  • Chopped soft raw fruit e.g. banana or melon 
  • Cereals, e.g. rice, oats, bread, pasta
Nine to 12 months   
  • Same as for 12 months, plus cheese, custards and yoghurt 
One year and over  Family foods 
  • Breast milk and/or plain pasteuised full-cream milk 
  • Different flavoured and textured foods from all the food groups 



Whether they're four months or 12 months, make sure you always supervise infants when they’re eating, due to the risk of choking, and here’s to happy days and restful nights.
 


Reference

The Guardian

This child care article was last reviewed or updated on Monday, 20 July 2020

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